Tar Heels back on champ list, Louisville excels on champ efficiency tests

For the first time since early January, North Carolina has climbed back onto the basic champ list. Now nine teams meet the criteria that the last 13 champs have possessed:

  • A one, two or three seed
  • Member of a Power conference: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 or SEC
  • Either went to the previous year’s dance or have an All-American
  • Led by a coach with more than five tourney trips and at least one Elite Eight run
  • Averaging more than 73 points per game
  • Allowing fewer than 73 points per game
  • An average scoring margin of at least seven points per game
  • A schedule among the 75 strongest in the country

The teams that meet all these criteria include: Arizona, Kansas, Duke, Villanova, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky, Michigan State and newcomer North Carolina. Louisville fell short again of making the grade because of its weak SOS (96)—but there’s good news coming on the possession-based side of the tests. Here’s the legend…and then the breakdown:

  • Light red boxes show where teams missed the criteria
  • Orange boxes show teams meeting all criteria
  • Dark blue tabs on the right show teams meeting KenPom ranking criteria
  • The dark red box indicates the team meeting KenPom raw efficiency criteria
  • The light purple boxes in the second column show teams whose KenPom ranking suggests that they don’t deserve their AP top 20 rating


Of the nine teams meeting the basic champ criteria, six are in serious danger of losing their credentials by Selection Sunday. Arizona (73.4 ppg) and Wisconsin (73.5 ppg) could easily fall short of the 73-point threshold. And Michigan, Kentucky, Michigan State and North Carolina could fall by the wayside by failing to garner a top-three seed.

The two possession-based champ checks saw changes this week as well. The biggest change came in the test comparing offensive and defensive efficiency rankings with past champs. Since Pomeroy started posting efficiency stats 10 years ago, every champion has ranked at least 17th and 25th in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. Last week, Syracuse, Florida, Kansas, Villanova and Louisville made the grade. This week, you can scratch Syracuse (#20 in OE) and Kansas (#27 in DE) off the list, but add Wichita State (#16 OE, #13 DE).

In terms of raw efficiency numbers, there has also been an important change. Every champion for the last decade has scored at least 115.1 and given up no more than 92.2 points per 100 possessions. Last week, only Florida met both criteria. This week, however, the Gators’ DE has slipped to 92.8/100 possessions. Meanwhile, Louisville boosted its offensive efficiency to 116.0/100 possessions and now owns the distinction of being the only squad to meet raw efficiency champ requirements. That’s why Louisville is emblazoned in red on the chart.

Final observation: KenPom stats say that Cincinnati, San Diego State and Iowa State don’t deserve their lofty position in the AP ratings. Efficiency numbers like Ohio State, UCLA and Pittsburgh better.

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22 Responses to Tar Heels back on champ list, Louisville excels on champ efficiency tests

  1. Gary Diny says:


    Thanks for the great work. I get the feeling that this will be a year when the champ comes from out of the pack (not a 1 or 2 seed). Similar to UConn in 2011, Florida in 2006, Syracuse in 2003, Arizona in 1997. As always, the game by game matchups might be the telling thing to decide what team gets to the FF and ultimately wins the title.

    THings are setting up for a very interesting last 3 weeks prior to the NCAA tourney. Certainly teams can make some big moves up or down the polls and in the numbers (efficiency, rankings, ppg, etc.).


    • Tom says:

      It could be, though, just because Louisville is apparently going to be horribly underseeded. Most mock brackets I’ve seen have them as a 5 or 6, which is ludicrous.

    • Jeff Bessa says:

      Last year a 9 seed with kenpom of 33 from small conference and weak SOS of 91 went all the way to F4 giving the eventual champ all they could handle in the F4. This year, same team is seeded 1, kenpom 7, SOS 103 and no one appears to be giving them a shot at all. In fact, they make a very sneaky contrarian pick yet they will be seeded 1. Butler had 2 amazing runs with a great coach. Perhaps Wich St can as well. They will have much easier road to S16. Will face a tougher test in the S16 (they faced 13 seed last year) but they did beat a 2 seed in E8 (maybe a weak one though). They graduated 3 players last year so that is a big negative.

  2. matthew says:

    Louisville really puzzles me. KenPom numbers and scoring margin are great.
    Havent really beaten of note. Maybe they can go to the elite 8 with the right matchups.

    • ptiernan says:

      I was prepared to dismiss the Cardinals. Then saw them this year. They’ve got a stronger frontcourt than I gave them credit for.

  3. Dave says:

    For some reason I just can’t get myself to believe in Villanova… I know it was just two games, but those two Creighton losses are really killing my confidence in them. Also, I hate saying it as a Michigan fan… but of the teams that qualify for the basic champ criteria, Wisconsin and Michigan State are looking like solid picks to me though. Bo Ryan’s consistent underachievement is concerning though.

    • ptiernan says:

      Dave – I’m a Michigan grad, and I too am suspicious this year. What changed for me this weekend is that I’m now more leery of MSU. I just don’t see them going deep with Appling playing the way he is right now.

  4. Andy says:

    Unless something happens over the next three weeks, I think it is looking like we will have to accept that this year’s champion will be very flawed in some way or another. That’s just what happens when no team meets all of the criteria normally met a champion. So here are some thoughts on the teams that do meet at least one set of criteria, starting from the lowest ranked.

    North Carolina: This team is really getting hot at the right time. My one beef is they don’t take a lot of three pointers, but if they keep playing like how they are right now, and are able to carry that into the tournament, this team is a sleeper. Final Four as a Cinderella? Possibly, but likely not much further, if that.

    Michigan State: I’ve been thinking this team as a likely champion because of Arizona’s recent slide on offense, but this team isn’t giving me anything to make me feel good about that pick. Only winning every other game will do that, and further, this team gets a great number of its points from its guards and not so much from its frontcourt. Their assist-to-field goal ratio is also above 60%, and for a team that’s better on offense than defense, their turnover margin is low. That said, Tom Izzo is still probably due for a Final Four appearance. But can his team figure it out between now and Selection Sunday?

    Kentucky: They didn’t go to last year’s tournament, first off. Second, this team really seems to lack leadership. Also, while Michigan State’s assist-to-field goal ratio is overly high, Kentucky’s is around 45% or so. They are stronger than the team that lost to Robert Morris last year, but I have a tough time envisioning this team in the Sweet 16.

    Michigan: Lowest rebounding plus turnover ratio of any of the contenders (+1.5 rebounding, +1.5 turnover, total is 3.0). Their defense also currently stands at giving up slightly more than one point per possession. That said, Beilein is a very solid coach. They probably won’t get upset, but likely will miss the Final Four.

    Wisconsin: This one is simple. Bo Ryan does not have the pedigree to make a run. His one Elite Eight appearance is flukish when you consider he faced double-digit seeds on that entire run, and hasn’t made it that far since. He has had multiple opportunities too, often seeded between 2 and 5. This team will not be seeded high enough or get so lucky. No further than the Sweet 16.

    Villanova: Their stats suggest that there is a lot to like about this team, and they have won all of their close games this year. But what is it about this team that they get blown out in losses? (16 to Syracuse after leading by 18 early, 28 and 21 in their games against Creighton with a 40-point deficit at home) I can’t eliminate a team from the Final Four because of these blowouts, but they can’t be considered much of a threat to win the title.

    Louisville: Although this could be Ken Pomeroy’s prohibitive favorite, their competition has been weak. They scheduled only two tough non-conference opponents this year, and lost them both. This is like Ohio State from last year, a team that otherwise looked quite strong but could only handle its conference opponents. This team could even get upset in the first round….or make the Elite Eight. But most likely, they underachieve.

    Duke: Lowest rebounding margin of any of these teams, at currently 1.3 per game. Combine that with a turnover margin of only 3.1 in their favor and a very weak defense that gave up 90 points in 65 possessions at home to Vermont, and if this team makes the Final Four, it will more likely be in spite of the other teams that are in their regional than because of any of Duke’s strengths.

    Kansas: Too many freshman starters, not enough leadership. Although the #1 SOS seems nice, I think it has merely exposed this team as overrated. I mean, they lost to San Diego State at home, for crying out loud! First weekend casualty perhaps?

    Arizona: Although there have been issues on offense, I am back on board with this team. Maybe it was just their performance at Colorado I saw this weekend, but I saw a tight-knit team that badly wanted to win. Their stars were also ecstatic for their bench getting minutes, and subsequently playing well late in that game. If Arizona builds off this, they are again the top threat to win the championship. I know free throw shooting is an issue, but if you take Aaron Gordon’s poor shooting out, they are actually otherwise 71.4% from there. Finally, Arizona is massively in front according to Ken Pomeroy, the BPI, and Jeff Sagarin. As of 2/23, the distance between Arizona and #2 is slightly wider than the one between #2 and #17 in Sagarin’s ratings! (#2 is Kansas, #17 is Wichita State, in case you were wondering.) The question remains, can they keep this up?

    Wichita State: A mid-major that has only been tested has only faced one team solidly in the tournament, St. Louis (leaders in the Atlantic 10 yes, but lacks offense and I could even see as an upset victim). After “shocking” the world last year with their Final Four run, I think they could be “shocked” with an early exit simply due to lack of preparation from their weak schedule. A likely #1 seed, but could easily be out before the Elite Eight. On top of their weak schedule, pretty much all of the advanced metrics suggest they may have the weakest numbers of any 1 seed. Yikes!

    Florida: As of right now, they make 34.2% of their three-point attempts, while giving up 34.4% shooting from there. They currently make 67.9% of their free throws. They are also having more of their shots blocked than blocking opponents’ shots themselves, albeit by a very scant 3.0-2.9 margin. I’m just going to guess that all this means they likely do not make the Final Four, unless they really shore up these areas. They do rebound well, with a margin of +5.7, while winning the turnover battle by 2.4, and Billy Donovan will have them ready to go for at least the early rounds. But I can see this team out before the Elite Eight, though more likely reaches that round and then bows out, just like their last three tournaments.

    So for now, although I have been high on Michigan State recently, I am taking a step back with them and going back to Arizona. But call me leery about their offense…but they will have opportunity to pad those numbers and if they develop solid momentum off of this past weekend, watch out! Villanova is also a decent threat that could go pretty far, but I think beyond this we are looking at a lesser team or two making a run. Still a lot of basketball to be played though before the brackets are released, but just plenty of stuff to think about for now.

    • ptiernan says:

      Wow. Great stuff, Andy. Just heard Seth Greenberg say exactly what you’re saying: “All these teams have flaws.”

      • Andy says:

        OK, just got done watching Arizona. My question with them is “can they keep this up?” Well there are a few more games to go, but early return looks like a resounding YES. 87 points in, by my count, 68 possessions while giving up only 59. Aaron Gordon, their worst free throw shooter, hit 5 out of 6 from the charity stripe.

        Let’s see how Arizona does against Stanford this weekend first, especially considering they have the best defensive Pythag numbers of any of Arizona’s remaining opponents, But they may be indeed finally starting to look like the champion contender I have long thought that they are.

  5. Tommy says:

    Andy, food for thought on Kansas: Just remember, the Jayhawks were oh so close to beating Michigan in the Sweet 16 last year — a season that saw them lose to TCU. I would consider that loss far more egregious than SDSU, a perennial tournament team. It would be a mistake to judge any team based on one game (SDSU) as opposed to a full body of work (winning the toughest or second-toughest conference in the nation by three games in an 18-game double round robin). Tough to call anyone overrated given the jumble up top this season.

    Now that I got my homerism off my chest …

    Sounds like Peter’s with a lot of us — so many teams, no definitive choice among them. Champ list goes with nine, tempo-free stats go with none of the above and suggest a 10th. Got that take that as a massive hint as to how wide open, how unpredictable this tournament can be next month. With so many mixed signals about these teams, I’m eager to see what the numbers show here in the coming weeks.

    • Andy says:

      That’s a good point about Kansas, maybe in some respects they could be compared to UConn from 2011. That team played, I think, the #1 SOS and got hot and won with a victory margin of about 9 points per game. The TCU loss was indeed a bad one, and they don’t have that this year. Still, I find myself not trusting Bill Self too much. He is very up and down. One year he goes Final Four, then dips slightly before falling prey to a big upset. I am admittedly being very nit-picky with Kansas, but I am still looking for more from this team before I take them very far.

      • B1azers! says:

        I agree with both of you, but Kansas is not the one going to take the crown. If you shut down Wiggins and if Emboid stays in the bench due to foul trouble, they will lose. UNC is a Final Four contender in my book. If the case of undecisive team to win it all, we’ll have to do the following: wait until the bracket comes out and follow the first rule of the championship criteria: “A one, two or three seed”. As soon as the bracket comes out, I will sort these teams in three column: pretender, contender, and “not enough for Final Four”. Look at last years 1-3 seeds: the contender were #1 Louisville, #2 Duke, #3 Florida, and #3 Michigan State; not enough choice to use for champion pick. The pretender: #1 Gonzaga, #1 Kansas, #3 New Mexico, #2 Georgetown, and #2 UMiami (low pythag for a #2 seed); a lot of pretenders. And last, teams that does not have enough offense or defense, or the right coach, etc., were #2 Ohio State (offense), #1 indiana (their coach), and #3 Marquette (offense + coach).

        • B1azers! says:

          In the case of #1-3 seed in the same region where they are all pretenders, your best bet is to analyze seed 4-12 for your Final Four pick. Another very important note: BACK-TO-BACK FINAL FOUR APPEARANCE!!! SInce 2007, a team from a previous Final Four made it to the Final Four the next. Here’s the time line, where the asterik (*) represent team with back-to-back Final Four appearance:

          2006 Final Four: Florida, UCLA, LSU, George Mason
          2007 Final Four: Florida*, UCLA*, Georgetown, Ohio State
          2008 Final Four: UCLA*, Memphis, UNC, Kansas
          2009 Final Four: UNC*, Villanova, MSU, UCONN
          2010 Final Four: MSU*, Butler, Duke, West Virginia
          2011 FInal Four: Butler*, VCU, UCONN, Kentucky
          2012 Finar Four: Kentucky*, Louisville, Ohio State, Kansas
          2013 Final Four: Louisville*, WSU, Michigan, Syracuse

          Which of the 2013 Final Four has the best chance to go back to the Final Four? A-HA!!!!

          • ptiernan says:

            Interesting question, B1azers. I would go with Louisville, just off the top of my head. I’m seeing Wichita State as bound to fall. I don’t think the Wolverines have the frontcourt of floor leadership to repeat their feat last year. And Syracuse has been scrambling so much, with such a low margin, that it scares me to bank on them.

          • Andy says:

            I absolutely agree with you about Kansas not winning the crown. I’ve thought a little more about Tommy’s comment today, and I am now forced to remind myself of a similar trend that may be happening that took place between 2008 and 2010. Let’s timeline it here.

            2008: Kansas wins the national championship.
            2009: Kansas is a 3 seed, reaches the Sweet 16, has Michigan State on the ropes all game, but allows a big comeback and loses. Michigan State ends up as the runner-up.
            2010: Kansas is a 1 seed upset by Northern Iowa before the Sweet 16.

            Now let’s look at the trend since 2012.

            2012: Kansas is the runner-up.
            2013: Kansas is a 1 seed that reaches the Sweet 16, has Michigan on the ropes all game, but allows a big comeback and loses in overtime. Michigan eventually is the runner-up.
            2014: ???

            I know you can’t just make a pick based off of that, but it is really eerie to consider. With such lack of leadership and a low victory margin, I just can’t get high on this team. Also, you can’t just go by what happened last year or what almost happened last year, you have to go with what the team is like right now. And I just think Kansas is in a lot of trouble.

  6. Tommy says:

    KU might not win the championship, but just keeping it stictly to this season, for me it boils down to defense. Jayhawks rank 29th there. Only problem is that with the NCAA champ usually ranking in the top four in kenpom’s offensive numbers (UConn being the exception), one glance reveals even worse defenses in Creighton (88th), Duke (58th), Michigan (82nd) and Iowa (84th) in the top four, with Kansas (29th), Wisconsin (44th), UCLA (41st), Villanova (20th), Kentucky (38th) and Wichita State (14th) rounding out the top 10 kenpom offenses today.

    Normally, I would target a team with elite offensive-defensive numbers. And as Peter pointed out in the “Defense wins championships” post, right now, only Florida (13th offense, 10th defense) and Louisville (17th, 7th) seem to fit the bill for me — and even then, they’re not the slam dunks from teams we’ve seen in the past.

    • Andy says:

      All good points again. I fully agree that Duke, Creighton, Michigan, and Iowa are not Final Four caliber teams for those same reasons and because their rebounding+turnover numbers are dangerously low for a high seed for the first three teams. Iowa rebounds the ball very well and has a rebounding+turnoved margin at this writing of +10.3, but they also have the problem of not going to last year’s tournament working against them, and played a pretty weak non-conference schedule. They played two surefire tournament teams in the non-conference, Villanova and Iowa State, and lost them both. They did beat Xavier in overtime, but they are a fringe team for the moment, we’ll see if they get in.

      I do actually respect what Bill Self has done as a whole at Kansas, winning a championship in 2008 and following up with another appearance in the finals in 2012 (yeah they lost, but who can blame them when Kentucky was that awesome?) Plus they have beaten Duke on a neutral court and are about to win another Big 12 title. I just think their youth isn’t ready for that kind of a run against some of the teams that have more upperclassmen in their lineups. But hey, we’ll find out in just a few weeks.

      I’ll end by giving my ideal Final Four, if all end up in different regionals, ranked from most likely to least likely, with one sleeper pick at the end.
      1. Arizona (they keep finding ways to win games and Sean Miller is very reliable as an overachiever in the dance),
      2. Villanova (despite their blowout losses, their overall picture still supports a deep run)
      3. North Carolina (getting hot, has some very good potential Cinderella numbers working for them, and their offense is showing improvement)
      4. Tough call but probably Michigan State (Tom Izzo is due, and a lot of other teams are questionable. He always has a way of beating such teams.)

      Top sleeper pick is VCU. Their offense is weak and they are not a good rebounding team, but their defense is also one of the best and they play a nice up-tempo game. They have also done this once before even though they were deemed as a weak team in 2011 that not only was debated whether they deserved a bid or not, but had the weakest Pythag numbers for any 11 seed (I think they also had the lowest victory margin of the 11’s that year.) But they also need to get some winning momentum, as they have lost three of their last four games.

      • Tommy says:

        I like your Final Four, and for now, have something similar probably.

        Florida. They look like the most complete team in the country, though if the Gators continue to win, I might worry that they’re due for a loss in the tournament in the first couple weekends.

        Arizona. Good balance, Miller knows how to win in March, and they seem to have all the pieces. An uptick on offense (32nd on kenpom) would be good to see. But then, the Wildcats were 49th not too long ago. Moving in the right direction.

        Kansas. It’s Arizona, only opposite. Defense (29th on kenpom) could use a boost, but I wonder how much of that has to deal with the offensive-minded Big 12 with Smart, Iowa State’s Big 3, Oklahoma’s balance, etc. Guessing that defense would be better in the Big Ten, ACC or anywhere else, really.

        Wisconsin. As close as I come to a curveball without seeing the brackets. Just like their offense (6th on kenpom) and the defense (44th), while not great, isn’t completely terrible. Bo Ryan makes me nervous, though.

        Sleeper: Oklahoma State. Pokes rank 27th on kenpom, which is better than San Diego State, Oklahoma, Texas and a whole host of other schools that will draw much more comfy seeds. They’ll be a dangerous 11/12 seed, should they make the cut, if Smart plays like he has in the past week.

  7. John B says:

    Some of this analysis is excellent. However there is one glaring flaw – teams playing a weak schedule also have greatly exaggerated stats for offensive and defensive efficiency. If you limited OE and DE stats to those ONLY from playing top 50 teams, you would have a more valid analysis.

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